IAMC Weekly News Roundup – March 18th, 2013

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Communal Harmony

2002 Gujarat riots: Real hero Latifa a driving force behind communal harmony (Mar 13, 2013, IBN)

Real Hero Latifa Giteli, a housewife from Gujarat, is doing her bit to transform lives post 2002 Godhra riots. The 2002 Godhra carnage transformed Latifa Giteli from a housewife to the driving force behind communal harmony.

“After the 2002 carnage, I went to a madarsa to see my relatives, but could not find them there. But I found kids whose parents were nowhere to be found. They held my dupatta and asked for water,” Latifa said.

Today, Latifa provides both Hindu and Muslim women vocational training and also helps them get jobs. Latifa’s faced her own set of challenges when in 2004 her husband was wrongly accused in a bomb case.

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/2002-gujarat-riots-real-hero-latifa-a-driving-force-behind-communal-harmony/378451-3-238.html

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Should Narendra Modi say sorry? (Mar 17, 2013, DNA India)

It is thought that if he says sorry, and accepts his responsibility for the events in Gujarat of 2002, he and his constituents can move on. However, he has chosen not to do this. On a panel with me on NDTV last week, actress and BJP supporter Kiron Kher said Modi in fact wanted to be hanged if found guilty, so where was the question of an apology? Her reference was to something Modi said in an interview to Shahid Siddiqui, editor of the Urdu magazine Nai Duniya.

I looked at the original interview to see the exact language used by Modi, and what the context was. After reading it I suspect Siddiqui has replaced some words Modi used. For instance, Modi is quoted in one place as using the word “ain” (for constitution) when it is likely he used “samvidhaan”. But let’s assume the words are more or less accurate. The specific reference comes after Siddiqui asks this question: “Why not apologise for the riots when you were responsible as head of the administration?”

The relevant part of Modi’s reply is: “2004 mein main ne ek interview mein kaha tha ke mujhe maaf kyon karna chahiye? Agar meri sarkar ne ye sab karaya hai, to use beech chorahe par phansi lagni chahiye. Aur aisi phansi deni chahiye ke aglay 100 saal tak kisi hukumraan ko aisa paap karne ki himmat na ho.” (I said this in 2004: Why forgive me? If my government was responsible for doing all this, it should be hanged in exemplary manner). “Jo log maaf karne ki baat kar rahe hain, woh gunah ko badhawa de rahe hain. Agar Modi ne gunah kiya hai to usey phansi par latka do. Lekin imandari say koshish karne ke bawajood agar siyasi wajuhat ki buniyad par Modi ko gali deni hai, to uska mere paas koi jawab nahin hai.” (Those seeking to pardon me are actually promoting crime. If Modi is guilty, hang him. But if, despite an honest attempt, you want to abuse Modi out of political rivalry, I can’t really do anything).

This is fine and such theatrical lines are acceptable in India. When I visited him in jail in 1995 Sanjay Dutt gave me a letter saying he should be shot at the crossroads if he was guilty (the court did in fact find him guilty, I must remind Sanjay). Anyway, the question to be asked in Modi’s case is: Guilty of what? Is there something for which we can say without doubt that he is guilty? Here’s my list. – Investigating the riots cases so shoddily that the Supreme Court had to send in a special team that finally secured convictions. As home minister, a portfolio he held then and now, Modi is personally responsible here. – Persecuting police officers like Rahul Sharma who acted against BJP and RSS rioters. – Provoking, there is no other word for this, hatred by using words like “Mian” to describe Ahmed Patel. Gujaratis use the word in contempt, and it should not have been used like this.

Modi assumes in the interview that people are only accusing him and his ministers of personally participating in the riots. I’m not accusing him of that, even though his minister Mayaben Kodnani has been convicted and sentenced to 28 years in jail for it. His record shows his incompetence at running the home ministry and his cruelty in persecuting honest, noble officers. He should apologise for that, because he is guilty of it.

http://www.dnaindia.com/print710.php?cid=1812145

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Sack cops for detaining youth illegally: United Muslim Forum (Mar 14, 2013, Times of India)

Police officers who illegally detained and tortured youngsters in the wake of theDilsukhnagar blasts should be booked and dismissed from service, new president of United Muslim Forum (UMF), Abdul RaheemQuraishi, said on Wednesday after taking charge. Quraishi alleged in front of a gathering that police had randomly picked up Muslim youth for interrogation after the twin blasts that left 16 dead and more than 100 injured.

“None of the erring officers have been questioned for having unconstitutionally detained and harassed the youth. This practice has continued since the 2007 Mecca Masjid bomb blasts,” said Quraishi who is also assistant general secretary of Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB). “Why don’t the government and police think before targeting and harassing Muslims?” he asked.

He said even those who had been earlier acquitted were picked up again, adding to the over 10,000 Muslim youth languishing in various prisons across the country on unproven charges of terrorism. Underlining the contrast, he said that Lt Colonel Purohit, an accused in the Samjhauta Express bombing, was still getting his salary from the army, while former DRDO scientist from Bengaluru, Aijaz Ahmad Mirza, was sacked despite lack of evidence on his alleged role in any subversive activities.

He added that the UMF would advise the Muslim electorate to cast its vote for a particular party when the time is right. “The Muslim electorate has become increasingly aware of these atrocities and will no longer vote for parties which merely claim they are secular. We will advise them on which party to vote for at the right time,” Quraishi said.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/18962995.cms

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Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast: NIA continues to question Rajender Chaudhary (Mar 13, 2013, Deccan Chronicle)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday continued with the custodial interrogation of Rajender Chaudhary, an accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, for the third consecutive day. A local court had earlier granted custody of Chaudhary to NIA from March 11, to question him in connection with the Mecca Masjid blast case. He will remain in their custody for 15-days till March 26. “Rajender Chaudhary’s questioning is still on,” NIA sources said on Wednesday.

The NIA wanted to question Chaudhary for his alleged role in planting a bomb at Mecca Masjid and brought him to the city from Haryana on a transit warrant. Chaudhary, an alleged key accused in the Samjhauta blast case, also known as Samundar Singh among the right-wing extremists, was arrested in December last year by the NIA from Ujjain.

A cellphone controlled pipe bomb had gone off at the historic Mecca Masjid here during Friday prayers on May 18, 2007 killing nine persons. Five others were killed after police opened fire at a mob protesting the blast.

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/130313/news-current-affairs/article/hyderabad-mecca-masjid-blast-nia-continues-question-rajender

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Finally, a panel to probe Dhule riots (Mar 19, 2013, The Hindu)

Two months after the January 6 riots in Dhule district that sent shock waves across Maharashtra, the government has appointed a one-man committee under retired Bombay High Court judge Shrikant Malte to probe the origins and causes of the communal conflagration that left six people dead and more than 200 people injured, apart from widespread vandalism and destruction of property.

Home Minister R.R. Patil made the announcement in the Legislative Assembly on Monday. The committee had been asked to give a report within three months and recommend measures to the district administration and police to prevent recurrence of such riots, he said.

The committee would attempt to answer questions such as whether there was an individual or a group behind the instigation of the riots and that whether the police were justified in firing on the mob that had grown steadily violent during the day. “The committee would inquire whether the police action was taken after following the appropriate procedure.”

Evidence of indiscriminate police firing in the form of video clips surfaced soon after the actual rioting. It was followed by a growing clamour to take stringent action against the errant policemen.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/finally-a-panel-to-probe-dhule-riots/article4524021.ece

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Ansari says sections of minorities not benefiting equally (Mar 13, 2013, Indian Express)

Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Tuesday sought to echo concerns raised by many about the absence of minority representation in the decision-making process and sections of minorities not benefiting equally despite the Constitution providing for equality to all citizens and prohibiting discrimination on various grounds. He said the national progress would be “retarded and slanted” if every fifth citizen is left out of it. Addressing the annual conference of State Minorities Commissions, he said an assessment of the ground reality pertaining to minorities should cover areas of identity, security, share in the fruits of development and role in decision-making.

The equity question, he said, has been a “perennial one”. “We know that equality before the law, quality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste sex or place of birth are fundamental rights but despite these safeguards, many amongst the minorities have not benefited equally or in adequate measure,” he said.

He touched upon implementation of UPA government’s various scholarship schemes for minorities and its infrastructure development programme in 90 minority concentrated districts launched after the Justice Sachar and Ranganath Misra committee reports. “Their implementation was uneven; the scholarships benefited a good number but reports about the identified districts are less emphatic. Access to credit remains a recurring grievance,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Minority Affairs Minister K Rahman Khan said more than the minorities, it was the responsibility of majorities to fight forces which try to disturb the harmony in the country. “The occasional outburst of clashes and after-effect is a blot on Indian secularism and its culture. More than the minority, it is the responsibility of the majority to fight such elements, in their own interest and in the interest of the nation,” he said.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1087192/

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DSP’s murder: CBI intensifies probe, detains one (Mar 17, 2013, Times of India)

The CBI team probing the killing of DSP Zia-ul-Haq detained a person said to be close to former UP minister Raghuraj Pratap Singh ‘Raja Bhaiya’ on Sunday, who is also among the accused in the case. Chavinath Yadav is suspected to be involved in illegal sand quarrying in Maudwara and Betni villages of the district and the slain official had been running a drive against the racket there, CBI sources said.

Chavinath along with Gulshan Yadav, who is also an accused in Haq’s murder and is on the run, are allegedly part of the quarrying racket and both are said to be close to Raja Bhaiya, CBI sources said. The CBI has booked five persons in the case. While two of the accused – Sanjiv Pratap Singh alias Guddu Singh and Rajeev Pratap Singh – are under CBI custody, the other two Gulshan and one Hari Om Shrivastava are absconding.

Raja Bhaiya is the fifth accused in the case. Meanwhile, the CBI team visited Manikpur and Sangrampur villages with relatives of slain village head Nanhe Yadav along with Kamta Pal, the accused in Nanhe’s murder. As part of its investigation, the team also went to the site where Nanhe’s brother Suresh Yadav was killed, sources here said.

Earlier in a major breakthrough on Saturday, police had claimed to have recovered the service revolver of slain Kunda officer. Haq was shot dead by an enraged mob when he had rushed to control the volatile situation after a village head was shot dead following a land dispute.

With his name cropping up in the matter, Raja Bhaiya had resigned from the UP cabinet on March 4. The Uttar Pradesh government had recommended a CBI probe into Haq’s murder and the central agency had taken over the investigations on March 7.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/19021064.cms

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Delhi Police tried to shield 1984 Sikh riots accused, says CBI (Mar 16, 2013, Indian Express)

In its final arguments before the court in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar and five others, the CBI on Friday alleged that the Delhi Police had failed to act against the main culprits and had tried to shield the accused. Senior advocate R S Cheema, representing the CBI, told District Judge J R Aryan that the two Delhi Police officials who had deposed as defence witnesses in the case were not “reliable”.

Cheema argued that police records from November 1 and November 5, 1984, obtained from the Raj Nagar police post in Delhi Cantt, did not mention any incidence of violence. However, the FIR lodged by the CBI reports 30 deaths and burning of numerous houses and vehicles. Cheema also told the court that defence witness Inspector Sunil Vashist of Delhi Police had testified that during his investigations spanning several years he had never visited the area where incidents took place, and had not recorded the statement of any resident.

“What sort of investigation is this? It appears that the Delhi Police is interested in collecting evidence only against the complainant Jagdish Kaur, and not against the accused persons responsible for the murder of her husband and son,” the prosecutor said. Sajjan Kumar is facing trial along with Balwan Khokkar, Kishan Khokkar, Mahender Yadav, Girdhari Lal and Captain Bhagmal for allegedly inciting a mob against the Sikh community in Delhi Cantt area between October 31 and November 4, 1984.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1088849/

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Top Maoist remains elusive, Jharkhand DGP joins hunt (Mar 16, 2013, Indian Express)

ARVINDJI, the shadowy Central Committee member of the CPI (Maoist) and “enemy number one” of the state police, has continued to evade arrest for three months now – ever since he crossed over to Jharkhand from Bihar. There have been a few close calls, but he has managed to slip out every time. The latest operation targeting him was in Gumla district, where a joint team of Jharkhand Jaguars, CoBRA personnel and the district police conducted a March 12-14 operation, acting on specific intelligence about Arvindji’s presence. In an extraordinary move, the state DGP joined the forces in the Sibiluru forests, talking to them and walking along with them.

Arvind Singh, who has several aliases but primarily known as Arvindji, is from Sukul Chak village of Bihar’s Jehanabad. He was the leader of the team that ambushed security forces at Latehar’s Katiya forests, killing 11 personnel. The incident is now infamous for planting of IEDs in the bodies of two slain personnel. The CRPF and police had been tracking his team since Arvindji’s entry from Bihar for 21 days prior to the Latehar incident. There were reports that he had since moved to Gumla; this week’s operation has confirmed his presence.

While DGP Rajiv Kumar was unavailable for comment, police spokesperson Richard Lakra said he joined the operation to get first-hand information about anti-Naxal operations. Kumar took charge on February 28. “The DGP was in Gumla for two days. He will also be visiting Latehar and Palamu,” said Lakra. “The DGP was at the operational site with other police officers and CRPF officials. He spent time with forces, even walked along with them,” said a top officer. Kumar reached Gumla on the last day of the operation, a day after Jaguar personnel Manoj Bakhla became the sole casualty of the operation.

The operation is significant as the forces also rescued two personnel, Brajesh Licha and Bikram Roy, from Maoist captivity after a prolonged gunfight. The Maoists used them as human shields and kept the police team away for long. Gumla SP Jatin Narwal, who led the operation, told The Indian Express that “the two policemen were trapped inside for 24 hours”.”Our forces showed remarkable fighting spirit, ensuring there were no more casualties. We deactivated 30 landmines and recovered 12 handguns,” he said. An officer said theforces claimed to have seen the bodies of eight Maoists. But Arvindji yet again managed to frustrate the forces.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1088900/

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Delhi constable’s pregnant wife murdered over dowry (Mar 16, 2013, Hindustan Times)

A pregnant woman, wife of a Delhi Police constable, was allegedly hanged to death by her husband and in-laws over dowry demand, police said on Saturday.

Monika, wife of constable Mohit Kumar, was killed by her husband and in-laws in Etawah village on Friday. Police has arrested the victim’s father-in-law Sahiram and his wife. An FIR has also been registered against six persons in this regard.

The victim’s father Omsingh in his complaint had alleged that Monika’s in-laws were demanding dowry for a long time. Monika and Mohit were married last year in February.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/1027347.aspx

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Tantrik held for woman’s abduction (Mar 15, 2013, Times of India)

Crime branch has arrested a tantrik, who had allegedly kidnapped a married woman from the city in January. Raj Pandey was arrested from Chennai and the 44-year-old woman was sent to a protection home. The Gujarat high court had asked the crime branch to investigate this case following a habeas corpus petition filed by the woman’s husband after she went missing on January 28. The 44-year-old woman’s husband had submitted an application to Gujarat University police station after she went missing. The woman ran a beauty parlour in Navrangpura area.

During investigation, GU police station officials found a letter purportedly written by the woman from their house. The woman had stated that she was leaving the house on her own wishes as relations with her husband were strained. In the letter, she had accused her husband of forcing her to enter into “unacceptable” relationships with his friends. With the recovery of this letter, police assumed that there was no criminal offence as she had left the house on her own.

She also called up her family twice saying she was visiting Shirdi and Haridwar and would return. Her family visited both places but did not find her. It was then that her husband filed the habeas corpus. Replying to the court’s notice, GU police station officials produced the letter. However, HC pulled them saying that till the woman was not found, it was wrong on their part to assume that the letter was written by her. The court also directed the police to lodge a case of kidnapping and transfer the case to crime branch.

Her husband told crime branch about Pandey, 42, a resident of Maninagar met this couple in Rifle Club at Khanpur a year ago. He also said that several bureaucrats, politicians and builders used to meet Pandey and accused him of kidnapping his wife, who has been traced to Chennai from her cell phone records. Pandey was remanded to crime branch custody.

Pandey links with UP don? Even as it is claimed that top shots revere him as a tantrik, crime branch officials suspect that Pandey has links with the Uttar Pradesh-based gangster Subhash Singh Thakur and his gang. Officials told TOI that Pandey often “looked after the arrangements” of Thakur’s associates when they visited Gujarat. However, during interrogation, Pandey claimed that he never believed in tantrik rituals but people believe him to be one.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-15/ahmedabad/37743848_1_crime-branch-tantrik-habeas-corpus

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Opinions and Editorials

Mr. Modi, You Are Not Welcome: Wharton Debate – By Ram Puniyani (Mar 15, 2013, Countercurrents)

The withdrawal of invitation for Narendra Modi to speak at Wharton Business School of Pennsylvania (March 2013) has been looked at in different ways by different commentators. Those who are opposing the invitation withdrawal, point out that it is a violation of the norms of freedom of speech. They say that Modi is an elected person in Indian system and his views on development of Gujarat under his leadership need to be heard by the people from business circles. Those opposing his invitation argue that inviting him is like giving legitimacy to his total record. His role in Gujarat violence, his failure to prevent the carnage and give justice to the violence victims cannot be delinked from his so called development. They point out that as far as debating and engaging with Modi is concerned it cannot be achieved by inviting him as a key note speaker; this invitation already gives a high pedestal and recognition to him. He should be interrogated, engaged and debated with on different forums which give equal ground to those wanting to debate with him.

They also point that Gujarat’s development is a lopsided one, it is projected more than what the reality is. In Gujarat the levels of malnutrition, child and maternal mortality is higher, Gujarat is comparatively low on human growth index. The anti SC/ST atrocity cases are one index of human rights record of the state. In taking these cases of atrocities against SC/ST Gujarat is lowest on the rung, with only 25% convictions. According to analysts the growth of Gujarat is more of propaganda as many other states have done much better during this period. The lowest in the scale of development in Gujarat are minorities and SC/STs.

Modi was invited by the students of Wharton to speak on Gujarat’ development. After this a few Professors circulated a petition asking for withdrawal of the invitation. Within just few hours the petition got a massive response and was signed not only by the professors, many others: alumni, the students, doctor’s lawyers and other stake holders also supported the petition. The large number of signatures and the logic which the petition put forward clinched the issue and students, who are the ones to decide, withdrew the invitation.

The United States has denied VISA to Narendra Modi since 2005, despite his being an elected Chief Minister of the state. The Commonwealth countries so far have been keeping him at arm’s length, but after his third victory, these countries want to mend the relationship with him, as his projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate are floating around in a strong manner. US had denied him VISA for his role in the carnage of 2002, and the denial continues. Similarly due to popular pressure after sustained campaigns; the activists groups succeeded in stopping the huge dollar funding from US to the RSS affiliate ‘India Development Relief Fund’ was collecting huge amounts and supporting the political work of RSS combine in the garb of cultural work. This RSS combine’s work is essentially to build up Hatred against minorities, through its various organizations.

While one is aware about the role of America in the promotion of politics of terror, in the formation of Al Qaeda in particular, while it is also known that US is out to attack other countries to promote its political-economic interests, at the same time there are various norms which different wings of American state follow. There are various civic norms which are stringent and are aimed to sustain and promote democratic values. The Civil society has also been campaigning to use this space, democratic-liberal one provided by these provisions of US system and try to stop the violation of human rights and retrograde activities in different places. This is a contradictory situation. The state by and large in its foreign affairs is like a Big Brother, violating all the laws of international behavior and laws and intimidating the smaller powers. There is no doubt about its role in international affairs, as a super power; it is undermining the global democracy; it has mauled the emerging global democracy amongst nations, which was getting expressed through rising clout of United Nations, has been sabotaged by US in particular. As a state it has promoted dictators and has been thick as thief with different dictators and autocrats. …

http://www.countercurrents.org/puniyani150313.htm

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Ishrat Jahan case: A shootout and many smoking guns – By Ujjwala Nayudu and Rahul Tripathi (Mar 17, 2013, Indian Express)

When were Ishrat Jahan and three others killed? Was it in a police encounter on June 15, 2004, as the Gujarat Police’s records show, or a day earlier, on the evening of June 14, as subsequent investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and others show, and which now point to an encounter that may have been staged? Nine years after the alleged encounter, heads have begun to roll in the Gujarat Police with the CBI making arrests, including that of IPS officer Girish Singhal, late last month. On June 15, 2004, the Gujarat Police announced that it had “eliminated the first woman fidayeen. Ishrat, the most visible face of the tragedy, was barely 19 when she was shot dead. Police said they had found an identity card on her that identified her as Ishrat Jahan Raza, a science student of Guru Nanak Khalsa College in Mumbai.

According to the Gujarat Police, Ishrat and her “accomplices”, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai and alleged Pakistanis Amjad Ali Rana and Jishan Johar, were Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives out to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Police killed Ishrat and the others in the ‘encounter’ and claimed to have foiled the assassination bid. Their bodies, riddled with AK-56 bullets, lay on the road beside a blue Indica car on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The police claimed to have acted on an intelligence input that Javed was coming with two fidayeens in a blue Indica-MH02 J A 4786-to kill Modi. After the encounter, Pandey and Vanzara proudly claimed to have busted a high-profile, “genuine” terror plot. “Genuine”, because questions were being raised on two earlier encounters – that of Samir Khan Pathan (2002) and Sadiq Jamal Mehtar (2003). The CBI took over the case in 2011 and on February 21 this year arrested IPS officer Girish Singhal, who was an assistant commissioner of police in the Crime Branch in 2004 and had led the operation under Vanzara’s supervision. Four more arrests followed-that of DSP Tarun Barot, who was then a police inspector with the Crime Branch (he is in jail in the Sadiq Jamal encounter case); retired DSP J G Parmar; inspector Bharat Patel; and Barot’s former security commando Anaju Chaudhary.

The CBI probe relied on analysis of the call detail records of the policemen, forensic analysis of hard-disks seized from Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Ahmedabad, and on SIT’s reconstruction of the crime scene by a team from AIIMS and the CBI’s Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Delhi. The CBI also tracked eyewitnesses who claimed that Ishrat and three others were kept inside a farmhouse on the outskirts of Ahmedabad days before they were shown to be killed in the encounter. Another witness from a toll plaza near Vasad (Anand) told the CBI that he had seen a Gujarat Police team taking Javed and Ishrat into custody from an unidentified car. The post-mortem report analysed by experts at AIIMS concluded that semi-digested food was found in the victims’ stomachs, indicating that the four had been killed seven or eight hours earlier than what the Gujarat Police claimed (police had claimed to have killed them at 3.40 am).

During the reconstruction of the encounter, the CBI studied the pattern of firing. According to the SIT, some of the wounds on the bodies could not have been possible if there was an exchange of fire. According to the police theory, Amin’s Gypsy had stopped behind Ishrat’s car. While the Gypsy was on the left side of the lane, Ishrat’s car was on the right side of the lane, near the divider. Though police claimed that the rear left wheel of Ishrat’s car was at a distance of 33 feet from the Gypsy, the road itself was only 25 feet wide. The other team led by Singhal, which had reportedly positioned itself in the roadside bushes on the left side of the lane, was, according to the police, 66 feet away from Ishrat’s car.

The SIT found that from this position, the policemen could not have hit Ishrat and Javed on their neck. This could only have been done from close range. The police barricades, which found a mention in the police FIR, were later found to be a cover-up for the encounter. The CBI team said they were now focusing on getting the statements of some of the accused recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC. This will help the agency build a case against the accused policemen who are still out of the CBI’s net. Even before the CBI took over the case, earlier investigations had punctured holes in the police theory. …

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/1089373/

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The Political Leadership Must Force The Army To Confront Its AFSPA Bogey – By Shoma Chaudhury (Mar 19, 2013, Tehelka)

The AFSPA is not merely a draconian law. It is an inexplicable political irrationality. This week brought stark crystallisations of that, yet again. Irom Sharmila – her 12th year into a fast so stoic and steadfast and historic, it literally challenges the human imagination – was brought to New Delhi to appear in a case registered against her for attempted suicide. Almost the same day, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah broke down in the state Assembly over the tragic and unprovoked killing of a civilian in Baramulla. Extreme fortitude, extreme frustration: it should have served to shift the boundaries of the conversation at least an inch. But it hasn’t. The debate on AFSPA has been trapped in a bizarre rigor mortis for decades. The army insists its men cannot function in a civilian conflict situation without it. Revoking it, they argue, would lower soldier morale and create safe zones for militants to group. This is a fallacious argument. In itself, AFSPA is no deterrence to the growth of militancy. In Manipur, in the years that AFSPA was in full effect, militant outfits ballooned from around 20 to 40 groups. In 2004, when the state erupted in protests against the rape and murder of Manorama, AFSPA was partially withdrawn from some districts. There is absolutely no evidence to show militancy has spiked in those districts in AFSPA’S absence.

Yet, no one seems willing to risk even such token – but potent – gestures in J&K. Omar’s frustration is not new. Back in 2011, speaking to TEHELKA, he had said he was determined to make headway on revoking AFSPA from a few peaceful districts. The army had to stop speaking in forked tongues. If they claimed militancy was the lowest it had been in 21 years, people rightly would expect a peace dividend. Omar said he was determined to give it. If the army would not relent, he’d revoke the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) from some regions as this lay within his jurisdiction. The AFSPA can only be operative in areas declared disturbed. So, in effect, revoking the DAA would revoke AFSPA. “Let’s just take the risk,” he said. “If the DAA can be lifted, it can as soon be put back. If there’s a spurt in militancy because the DAA was removed, what stops us from putting it back? It’s not a commandment from god. It’s a law.”

Strong words, but nothing happened. Both Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram in his stint as home minister had promised amendments that would make the Act more humane. But nothing happened. Now, it appears, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and Omar are all in agreement: AFSPA must be revoked partially in J&K. If still nothing happens, what are Kashmiris to assume? AFSPA is a commandment from god? If ever the time was right to repeal this law – even partially – it is now. By its very definition, leadership means taking risks. The army is right to ask for adequate protection for its soldiers, but why insist on excessive protection? Recently, the Justice Verma Committee recommended that violence or sexual assault by soldiers against women in conflict zones should not enjoy immunity under AFSPA, but the army stonewalled even that.

Like the Manipuri mothers who protested naked outside the Rashtriya Rifles base; like Irom Sharmila’s long, resolute fast, in a sense, Omar’s outburst in the Assembly is deeply symptomatic. The AFSPA sits like a canker in the soul of a democratic nation. The country’s political leadership must force the army to confront its bogey. In just the past one year, the army has gunned down several militants in genuine encounters. In each of these cases, not once have any locals raised an accusatory finger against the army. Not in December 2012 when five Pakistani militants and a local Kashmiri, Atir Ahmad Dar, were shot down in Sopore; not in April 2012 when five militants were killed in Handwara; and again not when two suspected LeT militants were killed in Budgam recently, to name just a few. It is only incidents like the Machil killings and the latest one in Baramulla that set people seething. Why would the army want to immunise its soldiers from the idea of discipline and fair play?

After his outburst, Omar tweeted that his emotions should not be read as helplessness. He is right: he is not helpless. The power to revoke the AFSPA may lie with the Union home ministry, but the power to revoke DAA lies with him. Gratefully, in the tier of Indian democracy, while the army commands respect, it is the elected who have the right to dictate. Omar must remember he was elected to keep promises and preserve the idea of justice. That’s a good vantage point to give orders from.

http://tehelka.com/the-political-leadership-must-force-the-army-to-confront-its-afspa-bogey/

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Story without an End – Editorial (Mar 23, 2013, Economic & Political Weekl)

The Supreme Court has called it the “worst stigma on the entire nation”. It was referring to the fact that 28 years after the Bhopal gas disaster, where deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) from the Union Carbide plant killed thousands on one night and many more in subsequent years, the survivors continue to be slowly poisoned. Till today, there is no closure to the tragedy that unfolded that night. In addition to the many who continue to suffer from ailments caused by exposure to the toxic gas, many more are now suffering the consequences of ingesting poisons from the contaminated waste that is still lying in the abandoned plant. Court cases and continuous campaigns notwithstanding, neither the state government of Madhya Pradesh nor consecutive governments at the centre have dealt with this tragedy with the urgency that is needed. With the passage of each year, and the marking of another anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy, there is little progress towards justice for the victims or an end to their exposure to toxins.

There are several parts of the Bhopal tragedy that remain unresolved. Perhaps the most crucial, in terms of impact on the daily lives of people, is the neglect by the state and central governments in dealing with the poisonous waste in the defunct plant. Last year, as a result of orders from the Supreme Court that action must be taken, it appeared as if a solution was in sight. A German company, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) agreed to lift 350 metric tonnes of waste from the Bhopal plant and incinerate it. But the deal fell through, partly due to opposition from within Germany where the consequences of incinerating such waste are well known. As a result, even as the Bhopal victims marked the 28th anniversary in December last year, the toxic pile remained where it was with no solution in sight.

An illustration of the indifference of the state and the central governments to the toxic crisis in Bhopal is the lackadaisical manner in which the testing of groundwater has been done. The survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy have been pointing out for years that the poisons from the waste in the plant have been leaching into the groundwater. In 2009, the Centre for Science and Environment conducted a survey confirming this. Yet, both the central and the state pollution boards refused to accept these findings claiming that the clay layer running under the plant prevented the poisons from leaching into the underground water aquifers. Finally, in September last year, the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research confirmed that the groundwater was contaminated with high levels of nitrates, lead and nickel and that this had spread over 18 colonies in the area. Why did it take so long to confirm something as basic as this? Surely it did not require some special or high level of expertise to conduct the basic soil and water tests. It is unconscionable that people who survived the lethal MIC have been forced to live next to a toxic pile and survive on contaminated water.

Earlier this month, the issue came up again in the Supreme Court wherein it ordered that a trial incineration of some of the toxic waste be done at the Pithampur facility in Madhya Pradesh. The state government had resisted using this plant for dealing with the waste arguing that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had not certified the plant’s ability to handle the waste. It is well known that even the most efficient plant cannot prevent some amount of toxic organochlorines from being released into the atmosphere when this type of waste is incinerated. This partly explains why the German company pulled out. And the Pithampur facility would probably not qualify as the most efficient waste treatment plant in the world by a long measure. Yet, what stopped the Madhya Pradesh government from conducting a trial run, as suggested by the Court, earlier?

The apex court has concluded that the tussle over where the waste should be disposed of has “been reduced into a matter of political battle” because of two different political parties at the centre and in Madhya Pradesh. And it is probably right in concluding this. If an illustration was needed of how politics overrides basic humanity, this surely must be one. At stake is the health of thousands of people who have suffered for almost three decades. After the 4th March order by the Supreme Court, there is now some hope that 10 tonnes of similar waste from the Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) plant in Kochi will be sent to Pithampur for a trial run before the matter comes up again for hearing in the Supreme Court on 6 May. But even if this happens, it is only the first step. Given the way this pile of poisons has been tossed around, there are bound to be other hurdles before it is finally cleared. Tragically, the Bhopal gas story remains a saga without an end because the people who could have done something have simply stopped caring.

http://www.epw.in/editorials/story-without-end.html

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Understanding Rape As A Tool Of War – By Subuhi Safvi (Mar 19, 2013, Tehelka)

… Though being held accountable for rape or, for that matter, considering rape as a tool of war is recent, instances where rape was used as a weapon of war have been highlighted in other wars and struggles in the recent past. It is reported that 100,000 women were abducted during the India-Pakistan partition and only 10% returned to their homes. These women were raped and tortured as a way of humiliating the enemy and ruining their honour. Muslim men abducted Sikh and Hindu women to later rape them while Sikh and Hindu men abducted and raped Muslim women. The anti-Sikh riot in 1984 showed the same type of brutality. Men were killed and the women were raped. Official figures state that 2,146 people were killed in Delhi and 586 people in other parts of the country.

The Gujarat riots in 2002 saw a similar mob fury. According to an Amnesty International report, close to 300 women were killed by the violent mob. Most of these girls were first stripped naked and forced to parade in front of their families after which they were raped or gang raped. Areas of conflict within our country like Kashmir, the North East and the Maoist regions, particularly Chhattisgarh have also had several reports of women being raped by the Indian armed forces. A study by an international organisation, ‘Doctors without Borders’, found that the number of victims of rape was close to 10,000. These numbers exceed that of Sierra Leone and Chechnya. Yet these crimes are often unreported as according to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) the armed force personnel are provided immunity. Under this Act, the army can “Enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.”

These powers have been used by several men in the army to rape women that are suspected of harbouring militants or helping them in some other way. Many accounts of the victims have been published by reputed international organisations but the rapists themselves are rarely punished. The militant groups have also been responsible for their share of rapes in Kashmir. Women have been abducted and raped as they are held hostage by rival militant groups, making Kashmiri women doubly vulnerable. In 2004, the women of Manipur held a protest after the brutal murder of Thangjam Manorama who was taken into custody from her home by the Assam Rifles under suspicion of having links with rebels. Her bullet ridden body was found a few kilometres away from her home, bearing signs of torture. Twelve Manipuri women came out naked, holding a banner saying ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ to protest against the paramilitary forces of the Assam Rifles demanding justice and taking a stand against the many rapes of other girls. Despite the curfew imposed, the protests by the women continued as they wanted the men responsible to be punished.

Chhattisgarh, one of the newer states in India, is home to a violent Naxalite problem. People of the villages face threats from both the police and the Naxals in the region. Women have been detained, raped and tortured when they are suspected of having links with Naxalites. Soni Sori, from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, was arrested and raped on allegation of being a messenger between the Essar Group and the Maoists. A hospital in Kolkata found stones in her private parts- which was part of the alleged torture used by the Chhattisgarh police. Other members of the police have been accused of molestation and rape as well. The report submitted by the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice Verma has suggested that AFSPA be reviewed and that any gender based violence by the armed forces be punishable under the law. The report was aimed to examine the changes required to the criminal law when it came to sexual violence and had a portion on sexual violence in conflict zones. This report was completed in a month and was monumental since the committee was formed in the wake of the gang rape of a 23 year-old girl in New Delhi in December 2012. …

These crimes are not committed to claim a woman’s body, but to claim a community. In groups, men find it necessary to prove their masculinity. In the case of groups, this generally means that men have to prove they are strong, dominant and powerful, especially when it comes to sex. This is a phenomenon that is seen in the civilian population very often, but during a conflict these feelings are elated. They are stretched to dominating the struggle and teaching the opposing side a lesson. This lesson often comes in the form of raping and mutilating women, thereby taking control of the means of reproduction. Raping women and girls is a way for a soldier to prove that he is devoted to the cause and is willing to do whatever it takes to destroy a community. Rape is used as a violent means to subdue, humiliate and control a population. There are fears among the community because any one of them might be next. Children born of rape are often shunned as well as they are not a part of the community where they live and were conceived from a ‘shameful’ deed. It has often been used as a tool of ethnic cleansing; in this case women are raped in an attempt to eradicate a community, national, ethnic or religious, from an area. Women that have been raped are often scared to go to the authorities. In many cases when they go to file a report they are raped again by the police. Governmental agencies, while aware of these crimes, are hesitant to gather proper data as the survivors are unwilling to report their experiences, and when they are, there are few eye witness reports. …

http://tehelka.com/when-war-comes-home-understanding-rape-as-a-tool-of-war/

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How A Government Job Spelt Doom For 37 Dalit Families – By Imran Khan (Mar 23, 2013, Tehelka)

When Lakshmamma, 33, applied for a job as a cook at an anganwadi, little did she know that it would blow up into a crisis, not only for her, but for all the 37 Dalit families in her village. For nearly four months, the Dalit community of Shivanagar village in Chitradurga district, 200 km from Bengaluru, has been protesting at Freedom Park in the state capital, against their ostracisation by the upper-caste residents of Majure, a village 12 km from Shivanagar. The upper castes are adamant they won’t allow Lakshmamma, a Dalit woman, to cook for their children at the anganwadi, and have enforced a social boycott on her community as “collective punishment” for her refusal to quit her job.

Lakshmamma had been thrilled when she saw the advertisement for the job in a local newspaper in August last year. Like most Dalits in her village, her husband Nagaraj, 43, worked as a labourer for upper- caste landowners in Majure. The anganwadi job meant a lot to the family of five that could barely make ends meet. So when Lakshmamma finally landed the job, it could have been the beginning of a better life for her family. But trouble started the day she joined work at the anganwadi in Majure. The upper- caste residents of the village, comprising Lingayats and Vokkaligas, refused to allow a Dalit woman to cook for their children at the anganwadi. At a hurriedly convened meeting, the upper-caste elders decided to ask Lakshmamma to sign a letter of resignation. When she refused, the elders decided to impose a social boycott on the entire Dalit community of Shivanagar.

The boycott meant the Dalits were not allowed to buy anything from the local shops, nor could they work in the fields and houses of the upper-caste landowners – their basic source of livelihood. In effect, the Dalits had been rendered jobless. In protest, the Dalits organised a sit-in at the Hiriyur taluk office on 15 November last year. Demanding the intervention of the local police and the district administration to end their persecution, they not only protested half-naked, but six of them even went to the extreme of smearing themselves with human excreta to symbolise their intolerable plight, hoping the officials would be shocked into taking action.

The protest led to action, no doubt, but it was against the protesters. Six protesters – who had smeared themselves with human excreta – were arrested on charges of disturbing the peace. “The police torched our tents. Fearing for our lives, we went to Bengaluru and set up camp at Freedom Park,” says Bhojraj, one of those arrested. Since then, a tent at Freedom Park has been home to the 37 Dalit families of Shivanagar. The protesters allege the police action was carried out at the behest of local MLA (Independent) D Sudhakar. When contacted by TEHELKA, the MLA flatly denied that anything of the kind happened in his constituency. “It is just a conspiracy to malign my name,” he says. “I have done enough for the Dalits.” The dalit protesters at Freedom Park are staring at an uncertain future. Too scared to return to their village, they are worried about their children’s education and desperate for alternative avenues of employment. “We sent petitions to the chief minister and the social welfare minister, but nothing has happened so far,” says TD Rajagiri, president of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (B Krishnappa faction), which is supporting the agitation.

“We are requesting the government to provide land and security to the Dalits. They cannot go back to work for Majure’s upper-caste landowners.” Social Welfare Minister A Narayanaswamy told TEHELKA it’s impossible to give land to all the Dalit families at once. “We will give land to some of them this year, and to another batch, the next year. Unless and until they agree to this, nothing can move forward. But they have refused so far.” After challenging the unwritten code of untouchability, facing persecution and protesting for nearly four months, Lakshmamma is left wondering if it was indeed a mistake to apply for that job. It remains to be seen if the state authorities can reassure her and the other protesting Dalits that their future would not be all dark.

http://tehelka.com/karnataka-how-a-government-job-spelt-doom-for-37-dalit-families/

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